Monday, August 22, 2011

The Age of Innocence

Every once in a while, I like to draw attention to a "vintage" ad, if only to remind us of a simpler time, when the world was young and all things seemed possible. You know, before it all went to hell in a hand basket.

This commercial is for a brand new product called "America Online." It allows one to easily access something called "the Internet," which involves using a Personal Computer to "communicate" with other Personal Computers (or "PCs") for the purposes of gathering information, buying stuff, and "even sending an email" through the "World Wide Web."

And what could one DO with "America Online?" Even in 1995, the possibilities seemed endless. The guy in this commercial has shown up to report that his planned day at the ballpark has been sabotaged by the harsh realities of life and it's pain in the butt responsibilities. He has to order flowers for his mother, book plane tickets for the family trip next week (more about this in a moment) and take his daughter to the library "to look up dinosaurs." Incredibly, ALL of these things can now be done with a few points and clicks, IF you have America Online!

(My first computer didn't come with a modem, or a hard drive, or even a disk drive. It was a Commodore 64 which used cartridges that had to be jammed into the side of the keyboard. And my first Online program wasn't America Online, it was something called Prodigy. I can still remember accessing Prodigy and walking away from the computer for an hour or so while the "home page" slooooooooooowly appeared on the screen. I can also remember getting a $300 phone bill the first month I had it. Good thing AOL's introductory offer was for "Ten Free Hours" of service per month, right? I mean, who would ever need more than Ten Hours of Internet access per month?)

Ok, first- the booking of plane tickets. Can you really do this with only one week's notice? What does that cost? Second- instead of taking his daughter to the library "to look up dinosaurs," he's going to download a few pages on dinosaurs from Compton's Online Encyclopedia- really?? Way to pass on your awesome ethical standards, buddy. Not to mention, way to land your daughter an F on her dinosaur report. And all because it's more important to go to a damn ball game. Third- ordering flowers? That can be done on the phone, just like it could be back in 1995, in about thirty freaking seconds. Oh, but this is also in the Age Before Cell Phones, which means this poor man can't do it while on his way to the ball game. So we can see his dilemma, can't we?

Anyway, this America Online commercial shows how awesome being "connected" to the "internet" (or the "World Wide Web," if that's something different) really is- you don't have to invest any time to do things like buy plane tickets or order flowers or take your daughter to the freaking library. All that stuff can get done in a few seconds- I assume this guy stopped by his house on the way to the game to hand his daughter the watered-down, generic crap about "dinosaurs." I wonder if she was disappointed that she wasn't going to spend an afternoon with dad at the library. I guess it doesn't matter, though, does it?

This commercial also shows us why Al Gore invented the internet* in the first place- so we could send each other "e-mails" and take care of time-consuming chores with a point and a click. And play Fantasy Football with our fellow losers. Not to post videos of ourselves doing every stupid thing imaginable, not to access x-rated content from the privacy of our own homes, and not to publish pointless, whiny, fairly obvious observations of commercials. But of course, we had to go abuse it, just like we abuse all technology- the wheel, the toaster, the telephone, skateboards....

I mean, come on. YouTube? Facebook? The Cloud? Sigh. We just can't have nice things, can we?

*I'm well aware that Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet, that this is just a slander created by the Bush 2000 campaign and perpetrated by the Gore-hating Media. I just liked the line.


  1. Actually, I remember hating the AOL commercials even back then -- including the "You've got mail!" announcement, which seemed insipid. Nevertheless, I spent my time on CompuServe, AOL, The Microsoft Network, and even Prodigy. The on-line services, as they were called, were just fine. A friend of mine even had a mystery book store somewhere on AOL. I enjoyed the CompuServe forums and news briefs from Reuters, which I could carry around in my Psion 3a computer. But it really was the World Wide Web, invented in 1993, which essentially gave us our freedom and then became our ruination. I remember that leaping from either AOL or CompuServe onto the unmoderated Web was a challenge. Where was this thing, anyway? But once I landed my first PC (an IBM), the Web was mine. Within a year, I had a Website. Within two years, I started creating and editing Websites for others. I spent far too much time with it, as it happened. Then the Internet went unlimited for $20 (or so) a month. That's really when the trouble began and when it became a truly commercial enterprise. And now it runs the country, if not the world.
    Think I'll go out and get me a Chicken Fajita.

  2. Oh, man, does that take me back; I can remember back twenty years ago when they first started coming out with web browsers. At the time, they weren't very powerful and were thought of as a variation of the more familiar bulletin board systems. Nowadays, you sound like a living fossil if you use the phrase 'bulletin board'.

  3. The "BBS" goes back to the 70's.
    The Web browser - beginning, essentially, with NTSC Mosaic, didn't come out until about 15 years ago. 20 years ago, there was no Web to browse. The Internet has officially existed since 1969, thanks, in part, to the Cold War.

  4. I should correct my own post: It's actually NCSA Mosaic, as in National Center for Supercomputing Applications (at the University of IL). This is the same place where, according to legend, the HAL 9000 fictional computer was given life. NTSC is our now-fading television format.

  5. I remember a commercial in which a guy meets a girl at a dinner party, and asks for her number. She gives him a piece of paper with her e-mail address (I remember thinking "what the heck is THAT?) and the guy realizes OMIGOD It's Time To Get Connected and Find Out About This Email Thing! It really does seem like a hundred years ago.